“I’m feeling lost and sad.” Bill’s words as he collapsed into a chair in the living room, took off his glasses, and wiped his eyes. We had begun the annual process of turning the house and yard into a Christmas scene. But finding the boxes of decorations and the outside lights we had stashed in the shop after last year’s celebrations was a no-go for him. So was finding the tree. Trying to put a light-up snowman in a window had ended in frustration, with cords strung all over the place and the snowman still not lighting up. I knew that actually hanging the outdoor lights and figuring out how the big tree goes together would be totally out of his range.
Christmas is a difficult time of year for many people for a variety of reasons. For those with early or moderate dementia, turning the house and yard into decorated scenes, increased social activities outside the home, people coming and going from one’s own home, changes in food, and all the hustle and bustle that goes with all of it can very quickly turn what is supposed to be a joyous time of year into a nightmare that makes them almost comatose.
“How about if we go get a smaller tree? Something that maybe will fit on top of a table?” I said. “It will take up a lot less room, and when Christmas is over, we can just put a black plastic bag over top of it and store it in the garage.” After 45 years of ‘hunting’ in fields and forests (being careful we were doing it legally of course) for the perfect real tree, then, when we decided we didn’t want to cut down anymore trees, putting up a large, artificial version, the suggestion of smaller and easier had a distinct appeal for both of us.
Off we went. We found a tree-in-a-pail that was just the right size. And when we got home we both had fun hanging the familiar ‘old’ decorations on the easy-to-reach new tree. We put it on a table in the front-room window and plugged it in (no extra cord required). We also found a large polar bear with blinking LED lights operated by battery. It was placed beside the tree to wink at people in the street. After all, we do live on Bear Place. Other light-up decorations went in other windows, and when the sun went down and everything was turned on, Bill said, “It feels like Christmas now.” We might not have the outdoor display we’re used to having, but the new arrangement is far easier on both of us. And when the holiday is over, it will be sooo much easier to take down and put away.
Yesterday was parcel-wrapping day. “Can I help?” Bill wanted to know. “Sure. Just pick up that pile and put it in that bag.” I am eternally grateful to whoever first came up with the idea to use decorated bags for gifts instead of boxes and wrapping paper. An added bonus if one wants to create bags with a personal flair is that it can provide an afternoon of fun for someone with dementia, too. Brown paper bags decorated with stencils, stamps, drawings or just colored in various ways–anything goes. This year all the troops are coming home. We don’t have to send anything out, so we’re only using bags. Of course, gifts that don’t require wrapping at all might work well, too. Singing a song, telling a story, providing some babysitting, or petsitting, giving a haircut, or a facial, or a shave–alternate choices depend on one’s particular talents and available time, as well as the proximity of the intended recipient.
“When are they coming?” Bill asks at least once a day, every day, as he looks out the window. So every day I tell him, “Not yet. Christmas is still three weeks away. The kids won’t be here until December 23rd,” and he nods and says, “Okay.” I know the question will be repeated tomorrow, but soon it will be the 23rd, and the kids and grandkids will begin to arrive.
While they’re here, we’ll want to be involved in all the fun, but I know it will be important to find some quiet time and space for Bill to rest. (I’m likely going to want the odd nap myself). I’m pretty sure when they go to the arena for a skate, or the swimming pool for a swim, Bill will want to be there. So will I. So perhaps one day we’ll suggest an afternoon movie the others might enjoy, and we’ll stay home and rest. Or they might head out for a walk, and we’ll stay home. Or instead of a boisterous game, I’ll suggest a more quiet, story-telling time.
Meantime, before everyone arrives I need to keep reminding myself our kids are grown. I don’t have to do everything! We can all share the joy of providing food. Baking cookies together is something even the toddlers of the family can get into–sometimes right from their toes to the tip of their nose–with all the gusto of Santa’s Elves.
Everyone finds their own ways to cope with the added stresses ‘holidays’ can put on them. The trick for us will be to keep taking stock, and take measures to mitigate the stress and enjoy the fun. It’s sometimes hard to tell just where Bill’s at, because he isn’t a guy who complains. But if I’m getting too tired, I’ll be pretty sure he is, too. It will show up in various ways. He might be more confused, less able to find his way or perform tasks he normally can do; he might become more withdrawn than he normally is; he might even say he doesn’t feel well. What I hope to do is prevent that and keep us both feeling good.
We’ll both love it when the family gets here. While they’re here, we’ll have a lot of laughs, and a lot of fun. And we’ll both be glad when the dust settles afterward and we’re once again alone in our cozy house, too. For everyone, I wish a happy, safe, and warm Christmas, and New Year!